Melon Farmers Original Version

ICO Age Appropriate Design


ICO calls for age assurance for websites accessed by children


 

Age Appropriate Censorship...

The ICO's onerous internet censorship measure starts its parliamentary approval stage


Link Here 12th June 2020
ICO statement in response to the Government laying the Age Appropriate Design Code, also known as the Children's Code, before Parliament.

We welcome the news that Government has laid the Age Appropriate Design Code before Parliament. It's a huge step towards protecting children online especially given the increased reliance on online services at home during COVID-19.

The code sets out 15 standards that relevant online services should meet to protect children's privacy and is the result of wide-ranging consultation and engagement with stakeholders including the tech industry, campaigners, trade bodies and organisations.

We are now pulling together our existing work on the benefits and the costs of the code to assess its impact. This will inform the discussions we have with businesses to help us develop a package of support to help them implement the code during the transition year."

 

 

The UK's opening gambit in US trade negotiations is to stifle US social media giants...

The government seems a bit cagey about the timetable for introducing the internet censorship measures contained in ICO's Age Appropriate Design rules


Link Here19th May 2020
The Age Appropriate Design Code has been written by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to inform websites what they must do to keep ICO internet censors at bay with regards to the government's interpretations of GDPR provisions. Perhaps in the same way that the Crown Prosecution Service provides prosecution guidance as to how it interprets criminal law.

The Age Appropriate Design Code dictates how websites, and in particular social media, make sure that they are not exploiting children's personal data. Perhaps the most immediate effect is that social media will have to allow a level of usages that simply does not require children to hand over personal data. Requiring more extensive personal data, say in the way that Facebook does, requires users to provide 'age assurance' that they are old enough to take such decisions wisely.

However adult users may not be so willing to age verify, and may in fact also appreciate an option to use such websites without handing over data into the exploitative hands of social media companies.

So one suspects that US internet social media giants may not see Age Appropriate Design and the government's Online Harms model for internet censorship as commercially very desirable for their best interests. And one suspects that maybe US internet industry pushback may be something that is exerting pressure on UK negotiators seeking a free trade agreement with the US.

Pure conjecture of course, but the government does seem very cagey about its timetable for both the Age Appropriate Design Code and the Online Harms bill. Here is the latest parliamentary debate in the House of Lords very much on the subject of the government's timetable.

House of Lords Hansard: Age-appropriate Design Code, 18 May 2020

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to lay the regulation giving effect to the age- appropriate design code required under section 123 of the Data Protection Act 2018 before Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Barran) (Con)

The age-appropriate design code will play an important role in protecting children's personal data online. The Government notified the final draft of the age-appropriate design code to the European Commission as part of our obligations under the technical standards and regulations directive. The standstill period required under the directive has concluded. The Data Protection Act requires that the code is laid in Parliament as soon as is practicably possible.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:

I am delighted to hear that, my Lords, although no date has been given. The Government have a bit of ground to make up here, so perhaps it will not be delayed too long. Does the Minister agree that the Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect storm for children and for young people's digital experience? More children are online for more time and are more reliant on digital technology. In light of that, more action needs to be taken. Can she give us some information about when the Government will publish their final response to the consultation on the online harms White Paper, for example, and a date for when we are likely to see the draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny?

Baroness Barran

I spent some time this morning with a group of young people, in part discussing their experience online. The noble Lord is right that the pandemic presents significant challenges, and they were clear that they wanted a safe space online as well as physical safe spaces. The Government share that aspiration. We expect to publish our response to the online harms consultation this autumn and to introduce the legislation this Session.

Lord Clement-Jones (LD)

My Lords, I was very disappointed to see in the final version of the code that the section dealing with age-appropriate application has been watered down to leave out reference to age-verification mechanisms. Is this because the age-verification provisions of the Digital Economy Act have been kicked into the long grass at the behest of the pornography industry so that we will not have officially sanctioned age-verification tools available any time soon?

Baroness Barran

There is no intention to water down the code. Its content is the responsibility of the Information Commissioner, who has engaged widely to develop the code, with a call for evidence and a full public consultation.

Lord Moynihan (Con)

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister able to tell the House the results of the consultation process with the industry on possible ways to implement age verification online?

Baroness Barran

We believe that our online harms proposals will deliver a much higher level of protection for children, as is absolutely appropriate. We expect companies to use a proportionate range of tools, including age-assurance and age-verification technologies, to prevent children accessing inappropriate behaviour, whether that be via a website or social media.

The Earl of Erroll (CB)

May I too push the Government to use the design code to cover the content of publicly accessible parts of pornographic websites, since the Government are not implementing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act to protect children? Any online harms Act will be a long time in becoming effective, and such sites are highly attractive to young teenagers.

Baroness Barran

We agree absolutely about the importance of protecting young children online and that is why we are aiming to have the most ambitious online harms legislation in the world. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Digital and Culture meet representatives of the industry regularly to urge them to improve their actions in this area.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the code represents a negotiation vis- -vis the tech companies and thus there is no reason for any delay in laying it before Parliament? Does she further agree that it should be laid before Parliament before 10 June to enable it to pass before the summer break? This would enable the Government to deliver on the claim that the UK is the safest place on the planet to be online. Share The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned: This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Baroness Barran

The negotiation is not just with the tech companies. We have ambitions to be not only a commercially attractive place for tech companies but a very safe place to be online, while ensuring that freedom of speech is upheld. The timing of the laying of the code is dependent on discussions with the House authorities. As my noble friend is aware, there is a backlog of work which needs to be processed because of the impact of Covid-19.

 

 

Do not snoop, do not profile, and do not earn any money...

Newspapers realise that the ICO default child protection policy may be very popular with adults too, and so it may prove tough to get them to age verify as required for monetisation


Link Here24th January 2020
News websites will have to ask readers to verify their age or comply with a new 15-point code from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) designed to protect children's online data, ICO has confirmed.

Press campaign groups were hoping news websites would be exempt from the new Age Appropriate Design Code so protecting their vital digital advertising revenues which are currently enhanced by extensive profiled advertising.

Applying the code as standard will mean websites putting privacy settings to high and turning off default data profiling. If they want to continue enjoying revenues from behavioural advertising they will need to get adult readers to verify their age.

In its 2019 draft ICO had previously said such measures must be robust and that simply asking readers to declare their age would not be enough.But it has now confirmed to Press Gazette that for news websites that adhere to an editorial code, such self-declaration measures are likely to be sufficient.

This could mean news websites asking readers to enter their date of birth or tick a box confirming they are over 18. An ICO spokesperson said sites using these methods might also want to consider some low level technical measures to discourage false declarations of age, but anything more privacy intrusive is unlikely to be appropriate..

But Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray predicted the new demands may prove unpopular even at the simplest level. Asking visitors to confirm their age [and hence submit to snooping and profiling] -- even a simple yes or no tick box -- could be a barrier to readers.

The ICO has said it will work with the news media industry over a 12-month transition period to enable proportionate and practical measures to be put in place for either scenario.

In fact ICO produced a separate document alongside the code to explain how it could impact news media, which it said would be allowed to apply the code in a risk-based and proportionate way.

 

 

Updated: Children likely to prove toxic to a website's monetisation...

ICO backs off a little from an age gated internet but imposes masses of red tape for any website that is likely to be accessed by under 18s


Link Here23rd January 2020
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has just published its Age Appropriate Design Code:

The draft was published last year and was opened to a public consultation which came down heavily against ICO's demands that website users should be age verified so that the websites could tailor data protection to the age of the user.

Well in this final release ICO has backed off from requiring age verification for everything, and instead suggested something less onerous called age 'assurance'. The idea seems to be that age can be ascertained from behaviour, eg if a YouTube user watches Peppa Pig all day then one can assume that they are of primary school age.

However this does seem lead to a loads of contradictions, eg age can be assessed by profiling users behaviour on the site, but the site isn't allowed to profile people until they are old enough to agree to this. The ICO recognises this contradiction but doesn't really help much with a solution in practice.

The ICO defines the code as only applying to sites likely to be accessed by children (ie websites appealing to all ages are considered caught up by the code even though they are not specifically for children.

On a wider point the code will be very challenging to monetisation methods for general websites. The code requires website to default to no profiling, no geo-location, no in-game sales etc. It assumes that adults will identify themselves and so enable all these things to happen. However it may well be that adults will quite like this default setting and end up not opting for more, leaving the websites without income.

Note that these rules are in the UK interpretation of GDPR law and are not actually in the European directive. So they are covered by statute, but only in the UK. European competitors have no equivalent requirements.

The ICO press release reads:

Today the Information Commissioner's Office has published its final Age Appropriate Design Code -- a set of 15 standards that online services should meet to protect children's privacy.

The code sets out the standards expected of those responsible for designing, developing or providing online services like apps, connected toys, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming services. It covers services likely to be accessed by children and which process their data.

The code will require digital services to automatically provide children with a built-in baseline of data protection whenever they download a new app, game or visit a website.

That means privacy settings should be set to high by default and nudge techniques should not be used to encourage children to weaken their settings. Location settings that allow the world to see where a child is, should also be switched off by default. Data collection and sharing should be minimised and profiling that can allow children to be served up targeted content should be switched off by default too.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, said:

"Personal data often drives the content that our children are exposed to -- what they like, what they search for, when they log on and off and even how they are feeling.

"In an age when children learn how to use an iPad before they ride a bike, it is right that organisations designing and developing online services do so with the best interests of children in mind. Children's privacy must not be traded in the chase for profit."

The code says that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration when designing and developing online services. And it gives practical guidance on data protection safeguards that ensure online services are appropriate for use by children.

Denham said:

"One in five internet users in the UK is a child, but they are using an internet that was not designed for them.

"There are laws to protect children in the real world -- film ratings, car seats, age restrictions on drinking and smoking. We need our laws to protect children in the digital world too.

"In a generation from now, we will look back and find it astonishing that online services weren't always designed with children in mind."

The standards of the code are rooted in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the code was introduced by the Data Protection Act 2018. The ICO submitted the code to the Secretary of State in November and it must complete a statutory process before it is laid in Parliament for approval. After that, organisations will have 12 months to update their practices before the code comes into full effect. The ICO expects this to be by autumn 2021.

This version of the code is the result of wide-ranging consultation and engagement.

The ICO received 450 responses to its initial consultation in April 2019 and followed up with dozens of meetings with individual organisations, trade bodies, industry and sector representatives, and campaigners.

As a result, and in addition to the code itself, the ICO is preparing a significant package of support for organisations.

The code is the first of its kind, but it reflects the global direction of travel with similar reform being considered in the USA, Europe and globally by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Update: The legals

23rd January 2020. See article from techcrunch.com

Schedule

The code now has to be laid before parliament for approval for a period of 40 sitting days -- with the ICO saying it will come into force 21 days after that, assuming no objections. Then there's a further 12 month transition period after it comes into force.

Obligation or codes of practice?

Neil Brown, an Internet, telecoms and tech lawyer at Decoded Legal explained:

This is not, and will not be, 'law'. It is just a code of practice. It shows the direction of the ICO's thinking, and its expectations, and the ICO has to have regard to it when it takes enforcement action but it's not something with which an organisation needs to comply as such. They need to comply with the law, which is the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] and the DPA [Data Protection Act] 2018.

Right now, online services should be working out how to comply with the GDPR, the ePrivacy rules, and any other applicable laws. The obligation to comply with those laws does not change because of today's code of practice. Rather, the code of practice shows the ICO's thinking on what compliance might look like (and, possibly, goldplates some of the requirements of the law too).

Comment: ICO pushes ahead with age gates

23rd January 2020. See article from openrightsgroup.org

The ICO's Age Appropriate Design Code released today includes changes which lessen the risk of widespread age gates, but retains strong incentives towards greater age gating of content.

Over 280 ORG supporters wrote to the ICO about the previous draft code, to express concerns with compulsory age checks for websites, which could lead to restrictions on content.

Under the code, companies must establish the age of users, or restrict their use of data. ORG is concerned that this will mean that adults only access websites when age verified creating severe restrictions on access to information.

The ICO's changes to the Code in response to ORG's concerns suggest that different strategies to establish age may be used, attempting to reduce the risk of forcing compulsory age verification of users.

However, the ICO has not published any assessment to understand whether these strategies are practical or what their actual impact would be.

The Code could easily lead to Age Verification through the backdoor as it creates the threat of fines if sites have not established the age of their users.

While the Code has many useful ideas and important protections for children, this should not come at the cost of pushing all websites to undergo age verification of users. Age Verification could extend through social media, games and news publications.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

The ICO has made some useful changes to their code, which make it clear that age verification is not the only method to determine age.

However, the ICO don't know how their code will change adults access to content in practice. The new code published today does not include an Impact Assessment. Parliament must produce one and assess implications for free expression before agreeing to the code.

Age Verification demands could become a barrier to adults reaching legal content, including news, opinion and social media. This would severely impact free expression.

The public and Parliament deserve a thorough discussion of the implications, rather than sneaking in a change via parliamentary rubber stamping with potentially huge implications for the way we access Internet content.

 

 

ICO delivers its new internet censorship rules to the government...

But it can't possibly let you read them...because of data protection y'now


Link Here23rd November 2019
The Information Commissions Office (ICO) earlier in the year presented draft internet censorship laws targeted at the commendable aim of protecting the personal data of younger website users. These rules are legally enforceable under the EU GDPR and are collectively known as The Age Appropriate Design Code.

The ICO originally proposed that website designers should consider several age ranges of their users. The youngest users should be presented with no opportunity to reveal their personal data and then the websites could relent a little on the strictness of the rules as they get older. It all sounds good at first read... until one considers exactly how to know how old users are.

And of course ICO proposed age verification (AV) to prove that people are old enough for the tier of data protection being applied.

ISO did not think very hard about the bizarre contradiction that AV requires people to hand over enough data to give identity thieves an orgasm. So the ICO were going to ask people to hand over their most sensitive ID to any websites that ask... in the name of the better protection of the data that they have just handed over anyway.

The draft rules were ridiculous, requiring even a small innocent site with a shopping trolley to require AV before allowing people to type in their details in the shopping trolley.

Well the internet industry strongly pointed out the impracticality of the ICO's nonsense ideas. And indeed the ICO released a blog and made a few comments that suggest it would be scaling back on its universal AV requirements.

The final censorship were delivered to the government on schedule on 23rd November 2019.

The industry is surely very keen to know if the ICO has retreated on its stance, but the ICO has now just announced that the publication date will be delayed until the next government is in place. It sounds that their ideas may still be a little controversial, and they need to hide behind a government minister before announcing the new rules.

 

 

'Protecting' people's data by forcing them to hand it over to any internet Tom, Dick and Harry...

ICO seems to have backed off from requiring age verification for nearly all websites


Link Here13th August 2019
Back in April of this year the data protection police of the ICO set about drawing up rules for nearly all commercial websites in how they should deal with children and their personal data.

Rather perversely the ICO decided that age verification should underpin a massively complex regime to require different data processing for several age ranges. And of course the children's data would be 'protected' by requiring nearly all websites to demand everybody's identity defining personal data in order to slot people into the ICO's age ranges.

The ICO consulted on their proposals and it seems that the internet industry forcefully pointed out that it was not a good idea for nearly all websites to have to demand age verification from all website visitors.

The ICO has yet to publish the results of the consultation or its response to the criticism but the ICO have been playing down this ridiculously widespread age verification. This week the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham further hinted at this in a blog. She wrote:

Our consultation on the proposed code began in April, and prompted more than 450 written responses, as well more than 40 meetings with key stakeholders. We were pleased with the breadth of views we heard. Parents, schools and children's campaign groups helped us better understand the problems young people can face online, whether using social media services or popular games, while developers, tech companies and online service providers gave us a crucial insight into the challenges industry faces to make this a reality.

...

This consultation has helped us ensure our final code will be effective, proportionate and achievable.

It has also flagged the need for us to be clearer on some standards.

We do not want to see an age-gated internet, where visiting any digital service requires people to prove how old they are. Our aim has never been to keep children from online services, but to protect them within it. We want providers to set their privacy settings to high as a default, and to have strategies in place for how children's data is handled.

We do not want to prevent young people from engaging with the world around them, and we've been quick to respond to concerns that our code would affect news websites. This isn't the case. As we told a DCMS Select Committee in July, we do not want to create any barriers to children accessing news content. The news media plays a fundamental role in children's lives and the final version of the code will make that very clear.

That final version of the code will be delivered to the Secretary of State ahead of the statutory deadline of 23 November 2019.

We recognise the need to allow companies time to implement the standards and ensure they are complying with the law. The law allows for a transition period of up to a year and we'll be considering the most appropriate approach to this, before making a final decision in the autumn. In addition to the code itself, my office is also preparing a significant package to ensure that organisations are supported through any transition period, including help and advice for designers and engineers.

 

 

The ICO has a Baldric inspired 'cunning plan' to require age verification for nearly all websites...

But the News Media Association points out that it would force websites to choose between being devoid of audience or stripped of advertising


Link Here4th July 2019
For some bizarre reason the ICO seems to have been given powers to make wide ranging internet censorship law on the fly without needing it to be considered by parliament. And with spectacular incompetence, they have come up with a child safety plan to require nearly every website in Britain to implement strict age verification. Baldric would have been proud, it is more or less an internet equivalent of making children safe on the roads by banning all cars.

A trade association for news organisations, News Media Association, summed up the idea in a consultation response saying:

ICO's Age Appropriate Code Could Wreak Havoc On News Media 

Unless amended, the draft code published for consultation by the ICO would undermine the news media industry, its journalism and business innovation online. The ICO draft code would require commercial news media publishers to choose between their online news services being devoid of audience or stripped of advertising, with even editorial content subject to ICO judgment and sanction, irrespective of compliance with general law and codes upheld by the courts and relevant regulators.

The NMA strongly objects to the ICO's startling extension of its regulatory remit, the proposed scope of the draft code, including its express application to news websites, its application of the proposed standards to all users in the absence of robust age verification to distinguish adults from under 18-year olds and its restrictions on profiling. The NMA considers that news media publishers and their services should be excluded from scope of the proposed draft Code.

Attracting and retaining audience on news websites, digital editions and online service, fostering informed reader relationships, are all vital to the ever evolving development of successful newsbrands and their services, their advertising revenues and their development of subscription or other payment or contribution models, which fund and sustain the independent press and its journalism.

There is surely no justification for the ICO to attempt by way of a statutory age appropriate design code, to impose access restrictions fettering adults (and children's) ability to receive and impart information, or in effect impose 'pre watershed' broadcast controls upon the content of all currently publicly available, free to use, national, regional and local news websites, already compliant with the general law and editorial and advertising codes of practice upheld by IPSO and the ASA.

In practice, the draft Code would undermine commercial news media publishers' business models, as audience and advertising would disappear. Adults will be deterred from visiting newspaper websites if they first have to provide age verification details. Traffic and audience will also be reduced if social media and other third parties were deterred from distributing or promoting or linking titles' lawful, code compliant, content for fear of being accused of promoting content detrimental to some age group in contravention of the Code. Audience measurement would be difficult. It would devastate advertising, since effective relevant personalised advertising will be rendered impossible, and so destroy the vital commercial revenues which actually fund the independent media, its trusted journalism and enable it to innovate and evolve to serve the ever-changing needs of its audience.

The draft Code's impact would be hugely damaging to the news industry and wholly counter to the Government's policy on sustaining high quality, trusted journalism at local, regional, national and international levels.

Newspapers online content, editorial and advertising practices do not present any danger to children. The ICO has not raised with the industry any evidence of harm, necessitating such drastic restrictions, caused by reading news or service of advertisements where these are compliant with the law and the standards set by specialist media regulators.

  blackadder cast
The Information Commissioner's Office has a 'cunning plan'

Of course the News Media Association is making a strong case for its own exclusion from the ICO's 'cunning plan', but the idea is equally devastating for websites from any other internet sector.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham was called to give evidence to Parliament's DCMS Select Committee this week on related matters, and she spoke of a clearly negative feedback to her age verification idea.

Her sidekick backtracked a little, saying that the ICO did not mean Age Verification via handing over passport details, more like one of those schemes where AI guesses age by scanning what sort of thing the person has been posting on social media. (Which of course requires a massive grab of data that should be best kept private, especially for children). The outcome seems to be a dictate to the internet industry to 'innovate' and find a solution to age verification that does not require the mass hand over of private data (you know like what the data protection laws are supposed to be protecting). The ICO put a time limit on this innovation demand of about 12 months.

In the meantime the ICO has told the news industry that age verification idea won't apply to them, presumably because they can kick up a hell of stink about the ICO in their mass market newspapers. Denham said:

We want to encourage children to find out about the world, we want children to access news sites.

So the concern about the impact of the code on media and editorial comment and journalism I think is unfounded. We don't think there will be an impact on news media sites. They are already regulated and we are not a media regulator.

She did speak any similar reassuring words to any other sector of the internet industry who are likely to be equally devastated by the ICO's 'cunning plan'.

 

 

Offsite Article: Just how bad is the ICO's draft age appropriate design code?...


Link Here6th June 2019
Foreign websites will block UK users altogether rather than be compelled to invest time and money into a nigh-impossible compliance process. By Heather Burns

See article from webdevlaw.uk

 

 

Strangling UK business and endangering people's personal data...

Internet companies slam the data censor's disgraceful proposal to require age verification for large swathes of the internet


Link Here5th June 2019
The Information Commissioner's Office has for some bizarre reason have been given immense powers to censor the internet.

And in an early opportunity to exert its power it has proposed a 'regulation' that would require strict age verification for nearly all mainstream websites that may have a few child readers and some material that may be deemed harmful for very young children. Eg news websites that my have glamour articles or perhaps violent news images.

In a mockery of 'data protection' such websites would have to implement strict age verification requiring people to hand over identity data to most of the websites in the world.

Unsurprisingly much of the internet content industry is unimpressed. A six weerk consultation on the new censorship rules has just closed and according to the Financial Times:

Companies and industry groups have loudly pushed back on the plans, cautioning that they could unintentionally quash start-ups and endanger people's personal data. Google and Facebook are also expected to submit critical responses to the consultation.

Tim Scott, head of policy and public affairs at Ukie, the games industry body, said it was an inherent contradiction that the ICO would require individuals to give away their personal data to every digital service.

Dom Hallas, executive director at the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), which represents digital start-ups in the UK, said the proposals would result in a withdrawal of online services for under-18s by smaller companies:

The code is seen as especially onerous because it would require companies to provide up to six different versions of their websites to serve different age groups of children under 18.

This means an internet for kids largely designed by tech giants who can afford to build two completely different products. A child could access YouTube Kids, but not a start-up competitor.

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association -- which represents companies including Amazon, Sky, Twitter and Microsoft -- said the ICO needed to conduct a full technical and economic impact study, as well as a feasibility study. He said the changes would have a wide and unintended negative impact on the online advertising ecosystem, reducing spend from advertisers and so revenue for many areas of the UK media.

An ICO spokesperson said:

We are aware of various industry concerns about the code. We'll be considering all the responses we've had, as well as engaging further where necessary, once the consultation has finished.

 

 

Parents will be driven nuts if their kids can't spend all day on YouTube and Facebook...

Jeremy Hunt demands that social media companies immediately ban under 13s from using their apps and websites


Link Here22nd April 2018
This is so wrong on so many levels. Britain would undergo a mass tantrum.

How are parents supposed to entertain their kids if they can't spend all day on YouTube?

And what about all the privacy implications of letting social media companies have complete identity details of their users. It will be like Cambridge Analytica on speed.

Jeremy Hunt wrote to the social media companies:

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for participating in the working group on children and young people's mental health and social media with officials from my Department and DCMS. We appreciate your time and engagement, and your willingness to continue discussions and potentially support a communications campaign in this area, but I am disappointed by the lack of voluntary progress in those discussions.

We set three very clear challenges relating to protecting children and young people's mental health: age verification, screen time limits and cyber-bullying. As I understand it, participants have focused more on promoting work already underway and explaining the challenges with taking further action, rather than offering innovative solutions or tangible progress.

In particular, progress on age verification is not good enough. I am concerned that your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum user age. I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.

This is not a blanket criticism and I am aware that these aren't easy issues to solve. I am encouraged that a number of you have developed products to help parents control what their children an access online in response to Government's concerns about child online protection, including Google's Family Link. And I recognise that your products and services are aimed at different audiences, so different solutions will be required. This is clear from the submissions you've sent to my officials about the work you are delivering to address some of these challenges.
However, it is clear to me that the voluntary joint approach has not delivered the safeguards we need to protect our children's mental health. In May, the Department

for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will publish the Government response to the Internet Safety Strategy consultation, and I will be working with the Secretary of State to explore what other avenues are open to us to pursue the reforms we need. We will not rule out legislation where it is needed.

In terms of immediate next steps, I appreciate the information that you provided our officials with last month but would be grateful if you would set out in writing your companies' formal responses, on the three challenges we posed in November. In particular, I would like to know what additional new steps you have taken to protect children and young people since November in each of the specific categories we raised: age verification, screen time limits and cyber-bullying. I invite you to respond by the end of this month, in order to inform the Internet Safety Strategy response. It would also be helpful if you can set out any ideas or further plans you have to make progress in these areas.

During the working group meetings I understand you have pointed to the lack of conclusive evidence in this area a concern which I also share. In order to address this, I have asked the Chief Medical Officer to undertake an evidence review on the impact of technology on children and young people's mental health, including on healthy screen time. 1 will also be working closely with DCMS and UKRI to commission research into all these questions, to ensure we have the best possible empirical basis on which to make policy. This will inform the Government's approach as we move forwards.

Your industry boasts some of the brightest minds and biggest budgets globally. While these issues may be difficult, I do not believe that solutions on these issues are outside your reach; I do question whether there is sufficient will to reach them.

I am keen to work with you to make technology a force for good in protecting the next generation. However, if you prove unwilling to do so, we will not be deterred from making progress.




 

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